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Games and Pastimes of the Maori


Swimming = Kau whakataetae The waterside swing = Moari.
Surf-riding = Whakaheke ngaruMorere
The water jump =Kokiri. Ruku Canoe racing = Waka hoehoe.

The Maori of New Zealand, like unto his Polynesian brethren, was absolutely and thoroughly at home in the water. He practised surf riding, with and without boards, as also in small canoes, as did the Hawaiians and others. He was a remarkably fine swimmer and infinitely superior to Europeans in the water, as a rule. I have seen a Maori swim across a flooded river nearly half a mile across, when it was in a state that no white man probably on the island would have faced. Native children take to the water like the proverbial duck, and when very young. This is, however, not so much in evidence as it used to be, on account of the adoption of European clothing and habits, including attendance at schools. In former times children ran naked to the four winds, and recked not of any trammels. The Maori knew four different methods of swimming, though, apparently he principally confined himself to the side stroke.

Kau tahoe. The side stroke. This is the favoured method and deemed the best in swimming long distances.

Kau apuru. The breast stroke. Considered an inferior mode. Ka ki te puku o tena tangata i te wai (The stomach of that person will be filled with water). Not suitable for a long swim, or for swimming in rough water.

Kau tawhai. The overhand stroke. A swift method for a short distance.

Kau kiore. Swimming on the back.

Swimming races (Kau whakataetae) in the different methods were, of course, extremely popular with young folk, both sexes bathing together without any extra amount of worry. Maori children and young folk generally were extremely fond of jumping from a height into deep water, a practice still seen in some places, but not as it was of yore. This exercise is termed ruku, usually rendered as 'diving' by us, but the Maori never dived head first as do we. He jumped in feet first, and when in the water and wishful to descend, he swam downwards. Many places have been pointed out to the page 41writer whereat this form of diving was indulged in in former times, when the Maori folk were numerous in the land. Such places were used by generation after generation of young folk, as that at Te Rua o Tauke, Ruatoki, and another at Te Pa o Taketake, near Ahikereru, both of which are perpendicular bluffs with deep water below. Another such is a tree near Pari-kino, on the Whanganui river, the lower part of the trunk of which projects out over the river in a slanting position, affording a good take-off for the dangerous leap to the water far below. Fig. 5a (p. 41) is an illustration of this pastime.

The aborigines of Queensland practise this exercise of jumping from a height into deep water, always descending feet first. Possibly it represents the early form of diving, practised by the more primitive peoples.

Fig. 5aMaori lads indulging in the Ruku or Water Jump. See p. 41 Dominion Museum Photo

page 42

Maori children seem to take to the water as though it was their natural element, and, under favourable circumstances, learn to swim about as soon as they can walk. Small rafts were sometimes made for children, which they poled or paddled.

Floats (poito) were sometimes fastened to a child when learning to swim. Matured gourds were placed on an elevated stage to dry, but no holes were made in them for extraction of the contents, which amounted to little when dried. The gourds were then placed in nets and secured to the child by means of cords, or, in some cases, such a gourd float (poito hue) was merely clasped to the breast with one arm, while the other was used to swim with, as some of us learned to swim by so using a kerosene tin. Apparently, however, this was no common practise.

In speaking of Maori children, Dieffenbach says:—"Near the sea or the lakes they acquire the art of swimming almost before they are able to stand upright."

A favourite pastime of native children is that called taurumaki, taururumaki, and taurumakimaki which consists of ducking each other in the water, the aim being to keep one under as long as possible, by no means a pleasant experience for the submerged one.

When living in the hill country the writer has often admired the dexterity and apparent ease with which natives crossed swift, turbulent flooded creeks by means of treading water. Maintaining an upright position, and taking a slanting course downstream, they literally walked the waters, the swift current bearing them onward. The tuwhana or grip pole was also used in crossing rivers.